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by Hope Lim

When I go outside, I often discover something inspiring, unusual, or humorous. It may be a new sprout, fresh and hopeful, a lonely leaf on a bed of grass, or a child begging for a stick stuck in a mud.

Some ideas stay with me long after I find them, demanding a dedicated space in my mind and on paper. This is the beginning of a long journey of writing a story. I have learned that my best ideas come from real life experiences and evolve over time and through countless revisions. The first idea is often a gateway from which I am guided into a place of discovery, aided by observation and reflection.

The idea for I AM A BIRD, my debut picture book with Candlewick, began when I encountered a stranger in a park. I thought her strange at first glance, but immediately recognized my perception was unfair and started to reflect on our innate fears and biases toward each other. Right then and there, I knew I had to write a story of exploring fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar.

In the beginning, my draft had heavy undertones, but over time, I AM A BIRD became a story about celebrating a kindred spirit that is found unexpectedly, all told from a child’s perspective. My daughter and her soaring spirit became an inspiration for the narrator of the story. Borrowing her voice and sticking to it ­definitely helped me step away from an adult’s voice and stay within a child’s frame of mind. Here is a photo of my daughter going to school, pretending she is a bird. She was 7 years old.

MY TREE, to be released in summer 2021 by Neal Porter Books, is my second book. It began as a reflection on an old tree in our backyard and its glorious changes through the four seasons. As I spent more time with it, however, the story became one about a Korean boy’s connection to an old tree in America that reminded him of his home. I drew inspiration from my personal experience as an immigrant, who has a strong sense of nostalgia and holds dear the memories of things past. But the journey with MY TREE wasn’t done until I realized it needed an uplifting element, which I added later by overhauling the ending completely. Despite the numerous edits and rewrites, the journey was worthwhile for I finally arrived at the story I hoped to tell.

The above is a screen shot of my computer. At first, MY TREE had a different working title.

This one shows MY TREE in its final stages and even after this, the story went through more revisions. Don’t let the reality that your stories must go through many, many revisions scare you. This is one of the surest ways for you to discover new ideas and experiment with many different possibilities for your story.

Finding an idea and turning it into a story can be a long, arduous journey, full of unexpected developments, challenges, and emotions. However, when you spend time with an idea, you are ushered into a place of discovery about yourself and your life. It may take years to find the right idea or inspiration to make your story work. But take your time and enjoy the process, extracting ideas from your unique life experiences until those ideas mature into special stories. In the end, you are rewarded with a story that ONLY you can write. Most of all, you have grown as a writer and a person.


Hope Lim is a children’s book author from South Korea and now lives in San Francisco with her family. She runs daily and uses this time to meditate on many things, including her story ideas.

Hope’s debut picture book, I AM A BIRD, will be published by Candlewick Press in January 2021, followed by MY TREE by Neal Porter Books/Holiday House in summer 2021, and MOMMY’S HOMETOWN by Candlewick in fall 2022. You can find Hope on Instagram @hopelim_sf, Twitter @hope_lim or hopelim.com.


Hope is giving away a picture book critique.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
2021

BLOOP!
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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